Still reeling from my tour of the Spaten brewery in Munich the day before, I asked Gerhardt if he knew of any remedy for my splitting head and aching body. Gerhardt Schnable was the kind fellow I met on the train from Berlin to Munich who had offered me the gift of couch surfing at his place if I bought the beer after the brewery tour. I was beginning to think he got the better end of the bargain.
He told me that there was Holiday Inn a few blocks away that had a passable health club and where I could get a massage for about 25€. Sure enough, as I turned the corner on Hochstraße, I saw the thoroughly modern Holiday Inn. Not The Ritz, but it appealed to my wallet. I entered the spacious lobby and approached the registration desk.
I asked the man at the desk, in my best broken German, where I could find the health club. After a few seconds of consternation, his face lit up. Leaning over the front desk, he pointed to a door at the end of a hall, “Ahh, du willst den Gesunheidts Platz. Es ist richtig, da drüben.” Gesundheits Platz? Ahh, the Good Health Place. The Germans have a knack for calling things exactly what they are.
I briskly walked down the corridor and entered a tiny vestibule. I exited through the door at the opposite end and was greeted with the sight of an elderly woman standing in her bra and quite ample panties. She was standing in front of a locker as she was putting a slip on over her head. I scuttled silently backwards out into the corridor. She hadn’t seen me. I hurried back to the front desk. I guess I should have asked, “Where is the MEN’s health club.” He smiled with the slightest trace of condescension. He pointed to the same door again. This is where I developed the personal code has that stood me in good stead throughout the world: “If no one is screaming, you aren’t doing anything wrong.” I went through the vestibule. By now, the sweet old lady had her dress on and was putting on her shoes. “Guten Tag, “ she said. There was no screaming. I replied “Guten Tag.” So far, so good. I went through another door. This one led to an office where two very serious looking female attendants were stationed. Still no screaming. Realizing that I wasn’t a local, one handed me a locker key and told me in English to put all my clothes in the locker and then go to the sauna, as they figured I needed a bit of pore cleansing before they’d touch me.
I stashed my clothes, covered myself with a towel and asked the ladies where the sauna was. They pointed to an archway that had the word “Sauna” written on it. I entered what appeared to be a locker room. On one side there were showerheads sticking out of the wall. On another wall, there was the wooden door to the sauna itself. Next to the door there were wooden pegs. I dutifully hung my towel on one and entered. As soon as my eyes adjusted to the light, I realized that I was sharing the sauna with the Müeller family from Frankfurt: Frau and Herr Müeller and their two teenage daughters, Krista and Sonja. At least one of them was wearing something. The dad had a washcloth on his head. Then I realized the most important thing. Nobody was screaming! After a few minutes of staring at the floor and at the ceiling, then again at the floor, I decided that it might be a good idea to shower. I bid adieu and went to one of the showerheads. As the cold water came blasting into my face, I heard the showerheads on either side of me turn on. Those darn Müeller girls felt that they needed to shower off too. In actuality, they wanted to know about where I’d been, what I’d seen in different countries, and if I knew Bruce Springsteen. We all went back to the sauna and they all decided that I needed a good German meal that night. I would be their guest for dinner and regale them with stories.
I called Gerhardt and told him that he wouldn’t be seeing me that evening.